Voici un article paru dans Cat News en 1999, dont j'ignorais l'existence jusqu'à ce matin. Il met en lumière la possibilité, fondée sur de nombreux témoignages, de la présence de tigres sur cette île, au moins jusqu'en 1995, évoquant même l'existence d'un individu captif sur une plantation, uniformément brun et aux stries très peu apparentes. Historiquement (et indépendamment d'une souche endémique) l'importation de tigres de Sumatra à Borneo par les sultans de Sarawak et de Brunei est tout aussi vraisemblable que celle, clairement avérée, de tigres de Corée au Japon dès le 9ème siècle. Ayant déjà souligné un vraisemblable maintien du tigre dans les zones montagneuses du centre de Java (Bambang Muryanto, dans le Jakarta Post du 2 Juin 2012)*, je crois utile de porter ce travail à la connaissance d'un large public (j'ai mis les passages les plus explicites et troublants en caractères distincts). Le tigre était aussi présent juste au Nord de Bornéo, dans l'île philippine de Palawan, il y a des milliers d'années (Piper et collaborateurs 2008).
*D'après des études du début des années 2010, le Tigre de Java pourrait constituer une ESPECE à part entière, le tigre de Bali étant une simple sous espèce de celui - ci...Les lecteurs réguliers de ce blog connaissent mon point de vue sur la question. Je tiens ces divisions soit disant scientifiques comme des fumisteries d'imbéciles malhonnêtes . Il existe un tigre continental eurasien voire afroeurasien (avec des variétés géographiques) et un tigre du sous continent Sunda, qui a démultiplié ses variétés après la transformation de celui - ci en archipel nippo - philippo - australasien. De ce point de vue, il est recevable à mes yeux de reconnaître le tigre de Bali comme une variété de celui de Java. Carlos driscoll a étudié cela sur le plan génétique, en vue d'un réensemencement potentiel généralisé des îles indonésiennes.
Cat News 30 pages 12-15 Spring 1999
The Bornean Tiger; Speculation on its Existence
by Erik MEIAARD.
This short note presents and discusses references to the occurrence of the tiger
Panthera tigris (Linn.) on the island of Borneo.
There is no scientific evidence to support the theory that tigers occur naturally on Borneo
(Medway 1977). However, tiger skins (Hose and McDougall 1912, Sellato 1995), skulls
(Nieuwenhuis 1904, Banks 1931), and canine teeth (Peranio 1960, Puri 1992 pers. obs.)
have been observed in the possession of indigenous communities of the Sarawak interior
and in West and East Kalimantan. Medway (1977) believed that these items had been
Hooijer (1963) states that the recovery of the tip of an unerupted upper tiger canine from
a superficial level in the excavation at the Niah cave in Sarawak (no. 1) suggests that the
tiger may have been, until comparatively recently, a member of the native fauna.
Unfortunately, Hooijer does not go into detail of how he identified this find. Remains
from deeper levels in the cave had not been found in 1977 to corroborate the case
(Medway 1977), and I am not aware of any finds since then.
One skull apparently existed in the Natural History Museum in London earlier this
century and was labelled as "Borneo" (see Note). However, this skull may have been
mislabelled. Furthermore, there is documentary evidence of tiger parts being introduced
to Borneo by man. Nieuwenhuis, a Dutch anthropologist, brought tiger skulls and teeth
from Java to Borneo as presents for tribal leaders of the upper Mahakam and Kapuas
rivers in East and West Kalimantan respectively (Nieuwenhuis 1904).
Several authors mention evidence that the peoples of Borneo are at least very well aware
of the tiger. In his study area in interior East Kalimantan (no. 2), Puri (1992) noted that
tiger parts play an important role for the Penan and Kenyah people. Tiger teeth were used
by community leaders for lie detecting and were considered to be very powerful. Only
after 10 months did Puri get to see a set of six of them. Nieuwenhuis (1904) pointed out
the great importance of tigers in traditional Bornean arts and religion; so much was the
tiger worshipped and/or feared that it would generally be referred to only by a lesser
name, ‘aso’ or ‘dog’.
Sellato (1995) in his zoo-linguistical study reports that most Dayak languages have a
specific term to refer to the tiger that is quite distinct from other cats, such as the clouded
leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). Also the Aoheng, a Bornean tribe of the upper Sungai
Mahakam (Sungai = River, hereafter abbreviated as ‘S’) (no. 3), are aware of a number of
details pertaining to the tiger’s habitat and habits. This suggests that the tiger may have
occurred on Borneo in the past, or that the people who populated Borneo came from a
region of South East Asia where tigers existed (Sellato 1983, 1995).
Abbott (in Lyon 1911), a respected zoologist, actually believed that tigers existed in his
study area in west Borneo (no. 4). Based on local narratives he thought that a much larger
cat than the clouded leopard occurred. He thought it to be very rare, as few whom he met
had ever seen it. Also Witkamp (1932) refers to tigers, which were claimed to occur in
the ‘Tjina-batangan’ area (no. 5) in northern Borneo in the Natuurkundig Tijdschrift voor
Nederlands Indië of 1857. Finally, Gersi (1975) produced evidence of tigers on Borneo.
He claimed not only to have seen a tiger near the S. Belayan (no. 6) in East Kalimantan,
but he also took photographs of the animal. The two photos in his book clearly depict
tigers. His explanation for this sighting was that in the past the sultans of Sarawak, Sabah, or Brunei must have imported these tigers from elsewhere. This explanation was
considered scarcely plausible by Medway (1977), who thought that this report (if
authentic) could only be evidence of a surviving indigenous publication. In his book,
Gersi (1975) further states that the nomadic Punan people of Borneo knew of a large,
striped cat species that, unlike the clouded leopard, did not climb trees.
During four years of fieldwork in many locations on Borneo I have come across a
considerable number of alleged tiger sightings. The most recent tiger report came from
the area between S. Pari and S. Hanyu in Central Kalimantan (no. 7), where a tiger was
said to have been heard in 1995, although no one managed to see it. The interviewees
asserted that they knew the roaring of the tiger well enough to discern it from other
animals. One Punan hunter told me he had had a clear tiger sighting on a logging road
near the S. Belayan in East Kalimantan (no. 8) in the early 1990s. Another informant said
he had seen a captive young tiger in a logging concession, near Bengalon in East
Kalimantan (no. 9). This animal was described as being different from both the Sumatran
tiger and the clouded leopard, BY BEING LARGELY BROWN-COLOURED WITH ONLY FAINT STRIPES.
In the Central Kalimantan village of Tangiran (no. 10), old people told of a large striped
cat different from the clouded leopard. One tooth was shown; it was said to be between one and two centuries old and once belonged to a tiger that lived in the vicinity of the village. Finally, one sighting was reported from the PT Domas Raya logging concession and dated back to 1987/88 (no. 11). Again it was said that the animal was faintly striped, and the size of a Sumatran tiger.
Apart from the above useful records, the interviewee in the PT Domas Raya logging
concession told a more fanciful story. He stated that the local tiger lived in a cave and
would only come out in the seventh month of the year. It was thought to be associated
with hermits and ascetics who could take on the shape of this animal. The animal was
said to only occur in the mountains and not in lowlands like the Sumatran tiger. A.H.
Everett recorded similar traditions in which tigers were associated with caves (Banks
1931). These stories were centred on the Pupok Hill (no. 12), Serambo (no. 13), and
Bukit Rimong (no. 14), and mostly concerned a flying variety of the tiger that made
weird noises in caves at certain seasons of the year (Banks,1931).
It is impossible to judge the significance of the reported tiger sightings. Mjöberg (1930)
already wondered about the apparent absence of tigers on Borneo, and it is indeed a
mystery why the tiger appears absent from the island. The species occurs in a variety of
habitats and seems to be very adaptable to different ecological conditions. On Borneo,
prey species, such as sambar Cervus unicolor, bearded pigs Sus barbatus, or muntjaks
Muntiacus spp. are common (pers. obs.), and, at present, there does not seem to be an
ecological factor on Borneo preventing the tiger’s survival.
I hereby postulate four theories that could provide explanations for the tiger’s absence
from, or the presence on, Borneo:
1. Tigers never occurred on Borneo
The island of Borneo has been connected to Sumatra and Java several times during the
Pleistocene when lower sea levels exposed the Sunda shelf. It is generally assumed that
during the glacials most faunal exchanges between the islands occurred (e.g. Groves
1990). Tigers swim well and could certainly have crossed the rivers that dissected the
exposed Sunda shelf. However, the drier climate during the glacials probably created
open woodland savannah conditions on the shelf (for a discussion on this subject refer to
Adams and Faure, 1997). It is therefore possible that the tiger, with a need for dense
vegetation cover, and access to water (Sunquist and Sunquist 1989), found the exposed
Sunda shelf too much of a barrier. Brongersma (1935) proposed an alternative
explanation. He suggested that the tiger reached the archipelago at a time when Sumatra
and Java were still connected, but already separated from Borneo (in the late Pleistocene).
2. Tigers once occurred naturally on Borneo but became extinct
Because of ecological conditions during the glacials, few tigers could reach Borneo.
Furthermore, the carrying capacity of forest on Borneo’s weathered substrate
(MacKinnon et al. 1996) is generally less than on the rich volcanic soils of Java and
Sumatra. Animal densities are therefore lower in Borneo, potentially supporting lower
tiger densities (e.g. Rijksen and Meijaard 1999). It could thus be relatively easier to hunt
a species to extinction in Borneo than in other areas, especially if most of the indigenous
population hunted wildlife. Also, the great cultural importance of tigers in Borneo could
suggest that the species would once have been heavily pursued by human hunters.
3. Tigers still occur naturally on Borneo
A very small possibility, but one that cannot be entirely ruled out. As opposed to the
theory above, one could reason that a tiger population that occurs naturally at low
densities, as it did in Borneo, might be better able to cope with dispersed individuals than a naturally high-density population at artificially low densities. Also hunting pressure on very dispersed animals may be low because the effort required to find a tiger would outweigh the potential profit. Therefore, a very low-density population in Borneo may have had a better chance to survive than elsewhere.
4. Tigers were once introduced to Borneo and established a wild-living population,
which either survived or died out .
As far as I am aware there is no historic documentation of tigers being introduced to
Borneo, and I appeal to readers for any information on this.
Proving that a species is present is relatively straightforward, but finding proof that it has
become extinct or locally absent is very difficult. At least a few times per year Indonesian
newspapers still report on new observations of the now thought to be extinct Javan tiger
(P. t. sondaica) in one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Luckily for the
tiger there is no known historical presence on Borneo. I say ‘luckily’, because, ironically,
if we assume that there is a remote chance of tigers surviving on Borneo, it may be the
least threatened population of all, as few would be specifically pursuing them for their
The question of what to do with the above tiger reports remains. If the scientific world is
interested in finding out more, systematic interviews with indigenous hunters combined
with camera trapping may be the best way to test whether tigers still occur. Camera
trapping would be very useful because it would not only target tigers but also come up
with information on a whole range of other little known Bornean species. Clearly positive
results from camera trapping would still not tell whether tigers occur naturally or were
introduced. Because two reports of tigers refer to a brown, faintly striped animal, it would
be useful to ask informants how the Bornean tiger compares to the Sumatran tiger.
Finally, an alternative approach, of course, would be to leave the image of the Bornean
tiger intact in the mists of mythology.
Thanks to Ed Colijn, Rona Dennis, Will Duckworth, Simon Hedges, Andrew Kitchener, Peter Jackson, and
Serge Wich for their support, data, and revisions.
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